Scottish prisons: independent review calls for sweeping reform after deaths

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An independent body should conduct a separate investigation into each death in custody in Scotland, a review has recommended.

The Independent Review of the Response to Custody Deaths report follows two years of research, analysis and engagement with families affected by deaths in custody, as well as prison and NHS staff.

Commissioned by Humza Yousaf, then Justice Secretary, in November 2019, he recommended a wide range of “systemic, practical and humanitarian” changes to radically improve the way prison deaths are handled in Scotland.

The report says, “Two pillars of trauma-informed practice are choice and control.

“Our review clearly showed that families bereaved by a death in custody have neither.”

A family advisory group made up of people bereaved by the death of a family member in custody advised the review.

Stewart Taylor, who chaired the family group, and his wife Liz Taylor, said: “After our son died in prison, we were honored to have been invited to participate in the review as members of the group. advisory of families gathered to give their opinion. people most directly affected by a death in custody.

“It quickly became very clear that a uniform system or policy which clearly spelled out the procedures for dealing with such incidents across prison in Scotland was sorely lacking or was not fit for purpose.

“Within our group, only one family felt that the prison administration had treated them with compassion and help.

“We hope that the recommendations of this report will be fully endorsed by the Minister of Justice and that the Scottish Prison Service will be responsible for implementing the recommendations of the report immediately after its publication.”

The report was commissioned by Humza Yousaf

The review makes a series of recommendations that include:

– The independent investigation should be opened as soon as possible after the death and be completed within a few months.

– This inquiry should be carried out by a body wholly independent of the Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Prison Service or the operator of the private prison and the NHS.

– The investigation process must involve the families or relatives of those who have died in detention.

– The independent investigative body must take into account applicable human rights standards.

– The independent investigative body should have unrestricted access to all relevant material.

– Corresponding tasks should be assigned to the Scottish Prison Service and other relevant institutions, requiring the completion, retention and production of relevant information in their possession.

– The independent investigative body should be required to produce and publish reports analyzing data on deaths in custody, identifying trends and systemic issues, making recommendations and promoting good practices.

– The independent investigative body should be made responsible by law to monitor and report on the implementation of its recommendations. The views of bereaved families or loved ones should be taken into account in this process.

– Families or relatives of those who have died in detention should have access to full funding for unconditional legal aid for specialist representation throughout the investigation process, following a death in custody, including to the FAI.

The review was co-chaired by Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Professor Nancy Loucks, Executive Director of Families Outside Charity, and Judith Robertson, Chairperson of the Scottish Human Rights Commission .

Ms Sinclair-Gieben said: ‘At the time of this review, dozens of people have died in Scottish prisons and hundreds more have faced the associated grief, trauma and distress.

“It is clear from our review that a systemic change is needed in the way these deaths are handled for both families and staff.

Professor Loucks added: “For too many families, the lack of information and answers goes on for months, if not years.”

Aamer Anwar, lawyer for the families of Katie Allan and William Lindsay, who committed suicide in prison, said: Prison Service.

“For three years, the families we represent have denounced a prison system in crisis which has directly caused deaths.

“For too long, the SPS has known that no matter how serious their breach of duty of care to prisoners, they will never be brought to justice.

“The Scottish Government has so far failed to hold the SPS to account, but the question now for Justice Minister Keith Brown and the Scottish Government is whether they will actually listen to their own experts.

“How many more families must campaign just to get the truth, when an irresponsible prison service cynically drags a legal process to bury any hope of truth, let alone justice.”

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